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The Cultivation Of Character Strengths

Nansook Park, C. Peterson
Published 2008 · Psychology

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Wisdom has long occupied the attention of psychologists, philosophers, educators, and theologians concerned with the good life and how to lead it. Wisdom is variously defined as erudition, especially in regard to philosophy or science; as the ability to judge correctly in matters relating to life and conduct; and/or as the understanding of what is true, meaningful, or lasting (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Such definitions of wisdom are so broad and all-encompassing that they work against the development of deliberate strategies for imparting wisdom per se, although we applaud our colleagues who are attempting such bold interventions. A different approach is to unpack wisdom by identifying its components and addressing how these might be encouraged. This approach is of course but a first step, because it leaves unaddressed how the components of wisdom are integrated and brought to bear in everyday life (Aristotle, 2000). But it is a first step that we know how to take. Sternberg (1985) studied what he called implicit theories of wisdom: the behaviors and dispositions that people believe are characteristic of wise individuals. Across a variety of groups, a consensus emerged. The ideally wise individual has a storehouse of experience; is a good problem solver; understands people and takes their advice; is perceptive; is thoughtful and fair; admits mistakes and learns from experience; takes a long view; and thinks before acting. This prototype of “wisdom” is distinct from those of “intelligence” and “creativity.” Sternberg (1998) acknowledged that implicit theories of wisdom are not to be confused with explicit theories but also observed that the overlap is substantial, which is hardly surprising given that wisdom is a familiar everyday language concept. One limitation of Sternberg’s (1985) initial studies of implicit theories of wisdom is that his research participants were from the United States. Are there cultural
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